This year, the Big Brother franchise clocks 20. This means it has been two decades since someone in the Netherlands, that person being one John de Mol Jr, woke up with a wonderful thought of bringing George Orwell’s 1984 to real life.
He also thought, instead of installing a draconian political leader to govern all the people and control their thoughts and actions, let’s indiscriminately pick 12 random strangers and sequester them in one isolated house for 13 weeks. Then, let’s watch them night and day. Let’s test them to see if they would tell on one another. And, finally, let’s reward the last housemate standing with a great bag of cash. Yes, this is an excellent idea for a TV show—an idea that can only be one thing – revolutionary!
Mr. de Mol was right, apparently. His company, Endemol, shipped the concept outside its country of origin and Big Brother has since become a global hit. As at 2018, it had expanded into more than 54 franchises with over 445 seasons aired. And in 2019, the franchise is at the biggest it has ever been.
In terms of the number of housemates ever assembled in one house, that record belongs to Big Brother Africa. In 2012, Multichoice and Endemol Africa gathered 35 contestants from 14 African countries into one big house and held them there for 91 days. The prize money was $300,000 cash. They called it the Big Brother Africa: Star Game and viewers from 47 African countries, glued to DStv, watched every minute of it. Not before or ever since has any other TV show drummed up the courage to chase that form of ambition. But if there is a version of the reality show bigger than Big Brother Naija, however, that is yet to be seen. Big Brother Naija holds its own records with one hand and breaks them with the other.
It seems its growth has always been predestined but that’s only because every time the show returns to TV for a new season, it must further spread out. As it primarily serves the largest entertainment market on the continent, Big Brother Naija needs to sustain the interest of its audience who are constantly bombarded with excellent programming from Nigeria, Africa, and other parts of the world, online and offline, via the golden age of television.
So far, two groups of people directly benefit from the reality show’s continued popularity. The first group is the millions of intrepid Nigerian youth who want the fame and instant wealth provided by the Big Brother Naija platform. For instance, this year attracted the largest audition crowd in the show’s history. In Lagos, one of the eight locations, more than 5,000 young men and women showed up to try out for the ticket into the House.
For anyone with enough luck to survive the audition phases and get selected as a housemate, stardom is within their grasp!
The second group consists of the sponsors and advertisers. The higher the stakes are raised in the competition, the more interested the audience become, and the more eyeballs BBNaija grabs. Advertisers desire nothing better than an avalanche of eyeballs.
Speaking of high stakes, for the first time in the history of BBNaija, the grand prize for this season’s edition shatters past editions. When the cash and other tidbits are tallied, it all comes down to a tidy, and historic, N60million.
The winner of the last edition, Miracle Igbokwe, left the BBNaija House with N45million in total. Before him, Efe Ejeba’s prize was N25million. And the first person to ever win in Big Brother Nigeria, Katung Aduwak, took home $100,000. In 2006, that was about N15million.
In the buildup to the Big Brother Naija premiere on June 30 this year, John Ugbe, chief executive officer of MultiChoice Nigeria promised that the season would be bigger in production as well as in winnings. Breaking down the N60million cumulative grand prize, Ugbe said that the winner of season four will walk away with a N30million cash prize and a top of the range SUV from Nigerian carmaker, Innoson. Then, there’s a complete home makeover sponsored by Scanfrost, a year’s supply of Pepsi and Indomie noodles and Munch It snack. Finally, the bouquet is completed with an Oppo smartphone and two VIP tickets to the Champions League to be provided by lead sponsor, Bet9ja.
In dollars, the total winnings are worth over N165,000. This figure is second only to the United States where the current top prize is $500,000.
For any one housemate with such magnetism, authenticity and charisma to seduce a highly analytical and extremely invested Nigerian viewing public for all of 99 days, this reward is well deserved.
Currently, celebrities such as music mogul Don Jazzy, actress Rita Dominic and previous housemates, including Tobi Bakre, keep the conversations going online and offline for Big Brother Naija. They have their job cut out for them because, unlike the previous houses, this one, themed Pepper Dem, is filled with influencers, businesspeople, and artists with adequate savvy to manipulate the fans.
Among these players is a social media vixen called Tacha who became a national sensation in 2018 for her unabashed carry-ons on Instagram. Another is actor/model Seyi Awolowo, a grandson of Nigerian independence champion, Obafemi Awolowo. His grandfather was once the leader of the Yoruba ethnic group and now the face on the country’s 100 naira note. And then there’s the Metropolitan Police officer, Khafi Kareem, who left her job in the UK, according to the BBC, without permission from the brass to compete in a reality show in her home continent.
Looking at just these three housemates, it is clear why the appeal of the 2019 season of BBNaija is nothing if not unheard of.
2019 is also the year Big Brother Naija returned home to Nigeria. Since the first Big Brother Nigeria, which in 2006 was sited the House in Ikeja, Lagos, the show had beamed the subsequent two editions from Johannesburg, South Africa. But now, it is back in the country whose name it bears, but still broadcasting to 49 African countries.
If the chatter on social media is anything to go by, the Big Brother franchise in Nigeria has been a huge hit for Nigerians with a taste for an exciting and over-the-top reality TV entertainment, ably provided on the DStv and GOtv platforms.
Big Brother Naija has become a shiny marker of how far that unusual idea from the Netherlands has come.
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